Chicago Siena High School

Siena High School (as it appeared in 2010)
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Courtesy of Chicago Catholic News

The History of Chicago Siena High School

Chicago (population: 2.8 million) is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, and is the third largest city in the United States. Various interstate, state, & US highways travel thru the “Windy City” along with several railroad carriers. O’Hare International Airport is one of the busiest terminals in the world, and handles a great deal of air traffic on a daily basis. The Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers still provide an outlet for water traffic if chosen by those wish to travel by that mode.

“The City of Big Shoulders” was founded in 1803 as Fort Dearborn, then grew slowly until it was recognized as a city in 1837. Although it may have suffered a setback in 1871 to the Great Chicago Fire, the city pulled itself up by its own bootstraps to rebuild, gaining many immigrants from various European countries and hosted the Columbian Exposition in 1893. By then, Chicago had grown even more to the point that it became the fastest growing city in the US during the second half of the 19th Century.

Siena High School was an all-girls’ school located on the city’s West Side with a beginning that stretched back to 1895. The school opened as St. Catherine’s Academy at Woodbury House on Central Avenue near Washington Boulevard as a K-8 co-ed grade school in addition to the all-girls’ high school. The Sisters of Mercy were in charge of the school as a new brick building was erected in 1897 to serve the Austin neighborhood along with students from Oak Park, River Forest, Maywood, and other western suburbs.

The school name changed in 1912 to St. Catherine High School as it became chartered with the state of Illinois. By 1917, the high school section had grown so much that the grade school was discontinued, and on October 12, 1925, a new building was opened by the Archdiocese of Chicago as a central girls’ high school on the West Side.

In 1931, another name change took place as St. Catherine became Siena High School, in order to distinguish itself from three other St. Catherine’s schools that were on the same side of the city. The name Siena comes from St. Catherine of Siena, who lived in Italy during the late Middle Ages from 1347-1380. More about her life can be found at

Following World War II, the enrollment of Siena began to increase steadily that it reached 522 in 1952 and the Sisters of Mercy were already putting plans into motion to build a one million dollar expansion that would hold one thousand students. When the building opened one year later, the school’s enrollment continued to climb to the point that 1,158 were in classes in 1958-59. When the enrollment stayed in that area, an extended day plan was implemented from 1962-64 to relieve the overcrowding.

The enrollment tapered off in the late ’60s due to a changing neighborhood and reached a point that the school building was sold to the Chicago Public School system in 1973. Those remaining students were moved into vacated classrooms at St. Lucy’s Grade School on Lake Street to ease the financial burdens that the school was saddled with at the time. However, it was too late and the final class of Siena (48 in all) received their diplomas in the school’s final graduation exercises in the spring of 1977.

Siena High School alumnae are being invited to join with alums from St. Lucy School in Oak Park for the 125th anniversary of St. Lucy’s Parish. Here’s more from the parish director or marketing and development, Lisa Rieger:

“We are in the throes of planning for the 125th anniversary of our parish and would really love to have your group from 1960 included in the events and happenings here. I realize that your (school) combined with St. Catherine’s in the ’70s, but St. Lucy’s is still very much a proud part of how we identify our parish to this day.

“I would greatly appreciate any information or connections you could offer to us. We have already begun to plan for several of our events for 2014. Our school website also has an “alumni” section where you can sign up for specific committees and events for our anniversary celebration.  Here is the link:”

Chicago Siena High School Building
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Courtesy of Sharon Rynn


Opened as St. Catherine Academy:           1895

Name changed to St. Catherine HS:          1912

Name changed to Siena HS:                      1931

Year closed:                                                1977

School colors:                                             Gold & White

School nickname:                                        unknown

School song:                                               “We’re Loyal to You Siena High”

                                                                        Submitted by Sharon Rynn

                       We’re loyal to you Siena High

                       We pledge our love for you

                       We sign you praises to the sky

                       And to your spirit we’ll be true

                       We’re loyal to you Siena High

                       And this will be our goal

                       That thru the years we will be faithful

                       To Siena our school.


We do know that Siena students had the chance to compete in athletics with other schools, even though the Illinois High School Association’s website ( does not show anything with regard to any hardware won by the school in sports or other competitions.

When it was known as St. Catherine’s, historian Robert Pruter says the school was a member of the Catholic High School Girls’ Basketball League from 1927-31. It competed with the likes of VisitationLoretto HighLongwoodLoretto AcademyMercySt. XavierSt. ScholasticaSt. MaryAquinasAlverniaWilmette Mallinckrodt, and Evanston Marywood.

The school took the league championship in the 1928-29 season. The league broke up in 1931-32 when the Catholic Youth Organization created its own league.


The girls probably had activities to keep the interests piqued at the school, such as band, choir, newspaper, yearbook, dances, parties, and the like. We’re curious as to how the Siena students spent their time together away from the classroom. Our addresses are below.


**From an anonymous member of the Class of 1962:

“I actually attended Siena 1958-59 and graduated in 1962. It is part of my past that will remain always close to my heart. I owe my willingness to learn to likes of Sister Roberta (she taught Latin) and Sister Alberta (Math). I loved my school, my friends, my memories and my future to Siena. I was proud to attend Siena and continue to proud to talk about the school. Thanks for bringing me back.”

**From Mary O’Connor (Class of 1963):

“Don’t forget Sister Julian! She had the biology lab, and our homeroom, and was full of energy. I will always remember cheating on geometry in that room…sorry God, I still got two master’s degrees. Siena and its up and down staircases. How about those leadership retreats in Wisconsin? Great memories of the Spotlight!”

**From Mark A. Hill:

“My great-aunt was a nun with the Sisters of Mercy, in Chicago Illinois between the years of 1930 – 1969. Her birth name was Clara Elizabeth Taylor, but her name changed to Sister Mary Theophane Taylor after she became a nun, in January 1930.

The Sisters of Mercy have been so kind as to inform me that my great-aunt taught at three schools, in three different cities…Chicago, Des Plaines, and Milwaukee. pecifically, she taught music and voice at Siena High School in Chicago. She was also affiliated with the Glee Club and Chorus, as she had been a professional singer, of Operatic talent, in the private sector.

This note is in regards to my great-aunt Clara Taylor (Sr. M. Theophane Taylor). According to the information I obtained from the Sisters of Mercy, my aunt became a nun during 1930. With that information, I managed to locate a Census document for that year, on My aunt’s name is third from the top 🙂

More the point, it also indicated that she was (presumably) teaching at St. Xavier Academy and College. That does well to establish a timeline for my aunt’s life in Chicago! She began life as a nun at St. Xavier, and continued on to Siena High School, eventually passing away in February 1969. She was laid to rest in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Worth Illinois.

My interest is to discover any bits or pieces about Clara’s life. To learn who she was, and possibly even view a photograph of her. My wildest hope, would be to hear her undoubtedly wonderful singing voice. But, any information at all would be greatly appreciated!”

**From Elizabeth Giangrego:

“I attended Siena 1960-64 and remember Sister Theophane vividly. There was something magnificently grand about her as if she was some great operatic diva. I was cornered one day while on “convent duty,” answering the telephones in the convent, by another nun. The other nun showed me a photo of herself before she entered the convent. Judging by the hat, it was taken sometime in the early teens. Anyway, she showed me this photo and whispered “I was much prettier than Sister Theophane,” and then wafted away. I always wondered what THAT was about!”

**From Kathy Cotton-Barger:

“I attended Siena High School from 1966 to 1969. I have wonderful memories of my days at Siena. I am in the process of searching for my yearbook. I will send you some photos as soom as I find it. I’m looking forward to some more input from others.”

**From Lillian Lazarro Zambetta:

“I attended Siena from 1958-1961 and attribute my “discipline” to the one-way stairs and silence in the halls. Even so we had great times and many memories, especially the senior ski trip and good ole Sister Alberta.”

**From Mary Ann Wogan, Class of 1969:

” I was in the graduating class of 1969, have a lot of good memories of Siena. I live in Ireland now.”

**From Jim Catanzaro:

“Hi there. Just getting started in the family genealogy, I recall my mom and her sisters and some good friends that went to Siena. Names were Lilly Warner, Mary J Warner and I believe Bernice Asire, who married Joe Azzarello and if I am not mistaking Bernice is still alive and living in North Riverside, but I can not locate her phone number or address.”

**From Darlene (Coleman) Cox, class of 1975:

“(I am) President of Civitan Luncheon Club, in Westpoint, MS. Married to Major Charlie Cox (Ret.) 40 years at GM plus Army, (Have) three grown children, eight grandchildren, and one dog. We are blessed. Life is great. We are retried and lived in south in Westpoint seen we moved in 1997. I have my school jacket. Smile. Yellow/ White! 1975!”

**From Judith Auer:

“Hi. 1957-59, I and a friend drove to a high school to take voice lessons with a Sister Theophane. (I attended St. Pat’s Academy in Des Plaines, and my friend went to a public high school.) For some reason, I wanted to remember the high school, and with a little research found it was Mercy High School.

“I noticed the post from Mark A Hill (see above) about his Aunt, who was Sister Theophane. I have a picture of her and can tell a few memories I have of her if he is interested. There is no timeline on his post or a contact email.

“I have always heard she had been an opera singer before entering the convent, and was interested in this information on her. I went on to be an opera singer, teacher, and stage director.”

**From Karyn Laitis (former SHS student 1962-63, dated July 5, 2022):

“I read some of the history of Siena H.S. and wanted to share what I still remember of my Siena experience. I have very fond memories of Siena High School. Of the girls attending and the teachers. My family moved out of state in 1963; so I only attended Fr and ½ of Sophomore year. I loved the school so much I wanted to stay with an Aunt and graduate from Siena, but it was not my decision to make. My last day of school was the day President Kennedy was assassinated. That night, friends had planned a surprise sleepover going away party which was truly one of the saddest gatherings imaginable—an ocean of tears.

“RE: extracurricular activities, we had inter- and intramural girls sports. There was Varsity Volleyball and Basketball (girls rules) played in a beautiful indoor gymnasium also used for classes, sports, rallies, assemblies and dances. There were other activities– Glee Club, Cheerleaders, scholastic and religious oriented groups. There were a number of secular instructors in addition to the Sisters of Mercy.  It is where I became fascinated with learning about comparative religions and belief systems.

“I hope you find more former students, teachers, friends and family to provide more information.”


St. Catherine and Siena High School? We’d like to know in order to preserve the history of the school. Items such as a team/school nickname (if one was used), activities, and more photos of the school are greatly appreciated. Please contact us at or clicking on this CONTACT US link. Or you’d like to send us something thru the US Postal Service, here’s our street address:

Illinois High School Glory Days Website

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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